Risky Play

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice cup of tea and watching the morning news in peace when suddenly a pint-sized person jumps from the arm of the couch into your unsuspecting face?

Children love risky play, especially my children. They are constantly looking for ways to increase the thrill of the game, even if it means sacrificing safety. The purpose (other than to give me a heart attack) is to increase the fun and explore the rules of their environment.


A Learning Technique

Risky play is a learning technique – what I mean by this is that when children are engaging in risky play, they are conducting a science experiment (without knowing it). They are using reasoning and chance, as scary as it is, to determine what they are comfortable with, and what their bodies and environment will allow.


Benefits of Risk

Risk management skills, along with self-confidence, resilience, and reducing the chance of injury, are all learnings a child gains from engaging in risky play.

I know what you are about to ask; how can risky play reduce the chance of injury? The science tells us that those children who engage is risky play have a much greater understanding of what is likely to cause injury. A child that has continually experimented with tree climbing knows the best routes to take, which trees are safe to climb, and how to go back the way they came.

If you had never climbed a tree as a small child and then are asked to climb one as an adult, your body, being longer and stronger, would allow you to climb to the top without difficulty. But now you’re in a pickle because you’re at the top of a tree and don’t know how to get down. A child can only climb as high as his or her body and environment allows, not to the top. They take small steps as they mature, pushing themselves just as much as is allowable.


A Young Life Without Risk

Risky play certainly seems dangerous and it can result in injury, so why hasn’t natural selection weeded it out?

Experiments have been done on rats to deprive them of risky play and the outcome was less than appealing. The researchers did not deprive them of other types of socializing, just risky play, and they found that the rats grew up emotionally crippled. When faced with the unknown, instead of showing curiosity and adaptability like their risky play counterparts, the emotionally crippled rats would seize up in fear or lash out with aggression (click here). Not a rat-ical way to grow up.

On the flipside, the science has shown that risky play has quite the evolutionary advantage. I’m sure everyone can recall their puppy or kitten play wrestling with them or another animal. Perhaps to wolf cubs, this is practice for later squabbles over meals. Monkeys will leap for branches that are just within reach, pushing themselves further and further each time. This experience will certainly come in handy when leaping away from challengers. Certainly one of the most perilous types of risky play can be seen in mountain goats (kids) that frolic on incredibly steep, rocky slopes. Undoubtedly this will make them hard prey to catch. All animals engage in risky play and it benefits them tremendously.

Freedom + Fear = Thrill (Danger)

So now that we are all aware that risky play is a benefitting activity to engage in, should we just let our youngsters have at it – absolutely not. There are still real dangers in hazardous play (which often accompanies risky play), so parents have to be vigilant in identifying and removing the hazards.

Risk – The possibility of something happening

Hazard – A potential source of danger

Hazards are often beyond a child’s ability to recognize. Risks are uncertainties that a child often recognizes and challenges (click here).

Back to our lovely tree example, the child sees a challenge and is uncertain about what will happen if they climb to a certain branch. What the child does not recognize is that the branch they’ve chosen to climb to has rotted out – a hazard the parent needs to control. Removing the hazard can be done by removing the branch, or, even better, teaching the child how to recognize rotted branches. By controlling the hazards, the child is still able to engage in risky play without an increase in the chance of injury.

Risk now equals hazards divided by parental safeguards.


Risky Play in Your Community

I love the tree examples I’ve shared with you but when I look around the current area where I’ve chosen to raise my family, not many trees pop out to say “climb me.”

Living in a city rather than countryside can seem a little challenging when it comes to engaging in risky play, but it’s important to note that risky play hotspots can be found anywhere! Your local park, your backyard, your living room – anywhere! When it was too cold and slippery outside for hazardless risky play, my family and I set up an obstacle course throughout the house. My preschooler would run and jump from chair to chair and my toddler would bound into piles of pillows. When we play in the backyard, my kids love to use the short beam surrounding my yard to perfect their gymnastic skills. The chance of a small drop to the grassy lawn below certainly livens up the game! And local parks encourage plenty of risky play activities with its monkey bars, twisty slides, and swings. All you have to do to be a vigilant parent in these scenarios is to remove debris, check for the correct signage for safety standards, and be a helping hand when your child needs it!

To find out more on how Canada is improving your child’s access to independent and unstructured outdoor play, click here.


Last Note on Inspiring Yourself

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller


Please feel free to leave a comment or story about the risks you and your child take together!

My KARA Heros

Hello again, great to see you back! This week let’s dive into the KARA Summer Program; a fun-filled adventure around every corner, from great dinosaurs to the wild safari, every week has something different to offer!

If you weren’t aware, KARA has three locations; KARA, KARA-Too, and Dunluce Tenant Centre. Each of the addresses can be found on the KARA homepage or on the summer program calendar. Choose the location nearest you or attend all three!

The summer program calendar details the weekly themes for the free drop-in programs, held Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, at varying times to accommodate those difficult nap schedules. Interspersed throughout the summer, we will be hosting field trips that are sure to inspire and wow your little ones, including nature centres, spray parks, and a dinosaur theme park!

When packing for these adventures, please remember necessities such as sunscreen, water bottles, hats, and comfortable shoes. Odd bits and pieces that may apply to your family may also include swim diapers, baby food, and extra changes of clothes. A light lunch will be served but if your children are anything like mine, it’s best to pack a mini fridge into your diaper bag.

Last summer, when KARA hosted a field trip to the Ukrainian Village, I attended as a Mom and hauled along my toddler (featured picture) and newborn baby. At first I felt like Mom of the Year. Look at me, strong and independent, on an outing with two young children and I can handle anything! As the day wore on, my children began to tire – and so did I! I’d try to keep my toddler’s spirits up with food, toys, and a happy singsong voice that made birds abandon their nests. All for not though, as I soon found out what being a Mom of a toddler will teach you if nothing else, very little can deter an impending temper tantrum.

At the time there was no mistaking the signs; the wobbly walk, the whimpering whines, the tearful eyes, and there it was. My son collapsed on the ground, his childlike, yet mighty voice thundering his displeasure. As I stood there at a loss, shocked with the task of consoling a two year old heap of emotions rolling on the grass in front of me while simultaneously holding an infant in my arms, in swooped my heroes. The KARA team took and cared for my newborn while I consoled my tired child, all the while putting the pieces of my dignity back together. It wasn’t so bad after all.

So if your child’s tantrums or behaviour in public places are the kind of moments you are dreading, deterring you from attending a field trip or program, fear not. We’ve all been there (and the ones that haven’t should give credit to where credit is due). Parenting isn’t easy. Mom of the Year goes to those that get out and about and if you attend KARA this summer, put your mind at ease. The KARA team has been there hundreds of times over and will be there for you too. Dignity and all.